At the present moment, there is a woman sitting at the table in front of me, furiously pecking at her keyboard with one hand and munching on a sandwich with another. To my right are nine men from the community gathered around two chessboards. Their chess pieces roll along the dark brown wooden table. The woman in front of me just picked up her backpack and left. Either she caught me staring too hard or her class begins in a few. Let’s hope it’s the latter.
These are your everyday people, each going about his or her own day with his or her own priorities in mind. But I’ve been taught to recognize the proverbial everyday person as a friend and a valuable asset — not to me, per se, but to the millions everywhere who face oppressions that prevent them from becoming everyday people or even from doing everyday things. It’s a bit abstract but the “line theory” does a good job of explaining what I mean, specifically within the context of the Palestinian narrative and even more specifically within the context of the upcoming Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) National Conference.
One year ago someone asked me who I target when helping to organize actions or events centered around the occupation of Palestine. My initial answer, The Americans Who Don’t Know, was too narrow and my second answer, The Opposition, was a waste of a breath. It wasn’t that I was targeting the wrong audience but, technically, I was.
Imagine a line. Or if you’re reading this after a busy day, let me imagine one for you. Presently, the line represents nothing. So let us quickly define the line’s boundaries with visible points.
One point represents you, the organizers or the educators, the ones who already Know. The other point represents the opposition, in this case the ones who, for example, insist that human rights laws are meant to be broken and that oppression is actually a protective maneuver.
What is left in between is the line which is basically just a figurative string that connects those who are not assigned to either side. They may be hesitant, perplexed, intimidated, or completely unaware. Or they may have already chosen a side but are seizing an opportunity to assess and to learn more. More importantly, the line foreshadows future coalitions and grassroots collaboratives that are far mightier than any diplomatic alliance. Whoever or whatever the line represents, it is your lifeline and you are its.
As simple as it is, the line theory forced me to rethink my strategy and to reconsider my goals. And for those who have already had the pleasure of applying it to the way they organize, I’m sure they can attest to the very same effect. Campaigning for an end to the occupation has become more inclusive, partly because people are quickly recognizing the importance of paralleling struggles and partly because we as organizers are becoming smarter in directing our efforts. If someone insists that Palestinians don’t exist, there is little chance of getting through to him or her. But if someone is having difficulty accepting the fact that his or her tax dollars are going to work thousands of miles away in the form of armored bulldozers, cement barriers, and stealth drones, this becomes an opportunity to reel in the line and to work some magic.
This is the general idea. It’s what keeps me relatively optimistic. If it hasn’t already happened yet, there will come a time when the lady hastily rushing to class or the neighbors resetting their chessboards will no longer be part of the line in between. It is absolutely crucial that they move toward the correct point, and for those who vow to bring them there, this is what makes your work so valuable and so necessary. Everyday people, assets to social justice.
It was at last year’s first ever National SJP Conference that this model was formally introduced to me. It sounds as if it’d be common sense or as if the line theory would have little more than a subtle effect. But to the contrary, it was accompanied by a workshop that has made many of us into more effective campaigners, strategic planners, and much more inclusive organizers. It taught us to recognize the people and the communities we should be working with.
The greatest part of all, however, is that the line theory, as simple and as powerful as it is, was just one of the many strategies, skills, and ideas refining and reinforcing student activism for Palestine.
Last year’s SJP conference was crucial in that it identified the status of campus solidarity work and found ways to push forward. Now, one year later, we are at a different place — a much more advanced place with a new series of challenges and a wider array of opportunity. This is the year of defining our roots and branching out to those groups and those people currently waiting for us in between the two points on the line. This is the year for full-fledged Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction campaigns on a campus-wide and even city-wide level. This is the year when we abolish once and for all any trace of inter-movement discrimination. This is a promising year, and to make the most of it, I urge you to join us in this year’s 2012 National SJP Conference.
For a concrete idea of what’s in store, check out this year’s program. Read up on all that took place during last year’s conference and take a photographic tour through the conference’s programs and events.